The Right Chemistry

Toxics toolbox: A crash course on chemical management software

sustainable chemistry management software
ShutterstockBrian Goodman
Sustainable chemistry is colliding with software innovation — but not all tech tools are created equal.

Proactively adopting a sustainable chemicals management program is a company’s best response to ever-increasing requirements and demands from consumers, supply chain partners and regulators. 

A key challenge for firms employing this approach is accessing the necessary chemical information. Software systems designed to meet this need can save resources, support improved chemical selection for the design of safer products and allow more rapid response to changing market demands for ingredients and materials.

Companies from Walmart and Seagate to Boeing and Halliburton have turned to software solutions to help them stay on top of chemicals management demands.

<p>The components of a chemical management strategy (right click image to enlarge).</p>
Strategies focused on safer chemicals are critical components of proactive chemicals management. Enhancing ingredient and material safety involves several data-driven tactics, including:
  • Prioritizing chemicals of concern for reduction or elimination;
  • Understanding and improving the health and environmental profiles of ingredients;
  • Verifying product composition; and
  • Enhancing ingredient transparency and communication.

The level of chemicals information management this requires may be a new and significant challenge for many companies. It requires both strong leadership within the company and effective tools to manage the volume and complexity of transactions with suppliers, customers and product designers. 

Pure Strategies reviewed the available tools and published a report on sustainable chemicals management software solutions provided by many leading vendors that are helping companies meet these challenges.  

We found that there are clear benefits for firms that use such tools, but the key is to find the right solution for each company’s needs.

The business case for chemical management software

Well-designed software and services comprehensively can track chemical ingredient information from incoming products or materials all the way through reformulation and incorporation into the products sold to a company’s customers. 

These software systems also can alert companies to potential violations of regulatory, customer or internal standards. Potential benefits include:

1. Increased efficiency and reduced costs

Sustainable chemicals management software reduces staff time otherwise required for chemical data tracking. These tools also facilitate communication with both suppliers and customers about chemical ingredients and restrictions. 

2. Reduced risk

Ready access to information on chemical ingredients and restrictions can help to avoid fines for regulatory violations and liability for hazardous constituents in products.

3. Improved customer relationships

Companies can assure customers of compliance with chemical ingredient restrictions and ensure rapid response to new regulatory or customer requirements.

4. A better brand reputation

Sustainable chemical software can improve brand reputation through facilitating safer chemicals in products and accurate ingredient disclosure for customers and consumers.

5. Competitive advantage

Such software provides product design teams access to essential information on requirements potentially affecting ingredient selection for new products, helping boost a competitive strategy.

How it works

Sustainable chemicals management software helps managers organize, analyze and make decisions about chemicals and materials in their supply chains and products.  

Key software capabilities to support these decisions include:

  • Inventorying chemical data;
  • Screening chemical ingredients against restricted substances lists (RSLs);
  • Assessing chemical ingredients for inherent hazard characteristics;
  • Evaluating exposure potential; and
  • Identifying less hazardous alternatives.

Not all software tools include all of these components. We found that most tools provide robust chemical data inventorying and RSL screening capabilities, a good starting point for meeting the needs of many companies. However, additional features may be required to execute the company’s sustainable chemicals strategy and these should be considered in evaluating potential solutions. These include:

Inventories of chemical data

A key benefit of adopting sustainable chemicals management software is automated inventory and management of chemical information (CAS numbers, percentages of ingredients of chemicals in products and generation of information about data gaps). 

Some software vendors also will assist companies in filling data gaps by working with their suppliers to obtain missing information.

Screen chemical ingredients against RSLs

Software readily can compare a company’s inventory of materials or ingredients against lists of regulatory limits and reporting requirements, as well as customer RSLs. Depending on the company’s sector or market, there may be a vast number of applicable regulatory and customer RSLs. 

Issues to explore with vendors include both the scope and number of regulatory and customer RSLs that are incorporated in the software (from a few to several hundred), and the frequency with which the lists are updated (as often as daily).

Assess chemical ingredients for inherent hazards

Companies that focus exclusively on regulatory lists of hazardous chemicals inadvertently may move to equally hazardous or more hazardous alternatives that aren’t yet on those lists.

An example would be replacing bisphenol A (BPA) with bisphenol S (BPS) or bisphenol F (BPF) — neither of which is regulated, but which a report on recent research concludes “may pose similar health hazards.” 

Among software tools that assess intrinsic chemical hazards, there is substantial variability in the breadth and depth of their offerings.  

Assess exposure potential

Only a few of the sustainable chemicals management software vendors provide assessments of potential consumer exposures to hazardous chemicals in consumer products. 

The contexts and scenarios for consumer exposures sometimes can be complex and uncertain. 

Vendors offering assessments of the extent and routes of exposure incorporate information that may include: intrinsic physico-chemical characteristics of ingredients, such as volatility or solubility; life cycle and product factors, such as the phase of use and routes of exposure where a chemical may pose a health hazard; or exposure scenarios derived from public or proprietary databases and research.

Identify less hazardous alternatives

The least common feature provided by software vendors is support in identifying safer alternatives — more sustainable chemical ingredients that can perform a needed function in a product. 

Some software tools provide analyses and services such as scoring chemical products or ingredients on the basis of relative hazards and potential exposures. Another resource could be toolboxes of safer chemical alternatives for specific functions.

How to choose

Because of differing company needs and resources, there is no one-size-fits-all ideal software system for all companies.

In order to evaluate the varied options offered by the vendors and choose the best solution, a company needs to:

  • Set goals: Carefully evaluate expected benefits from using software tools in order to align needs and selection.
  • Establish requirements: Clarify chemicals management software requirements, as well as resource availability/limitations for investment in a software system.
  • Make a selection: Review the vendors’ service summaries in the Pure Strategies report, explore the vendor websites, then contact the vendors that appear most likely to meet company needs.

Identify vendors whose sustainable chemicals management software most closely aligns with company requirements, and whose approach allows the company to pay only for the services it needs.

Sustainable chemicals management software offers companies a way to gain more control over the chemicals used and stay ahead of changing requirements while increasing efficiency and strengthening relationships with suppliers and customers. 

As more companies employ powerful tools that allow them to develop sophisticated chemicals management programs, the companies that lack these initiatives risk not understanding their own ingredient exposure — and lagging behind their peers in transitioning to the safer ingredients consumers are demanding.

For more detail on the topics discussed here, as well as vendor summaries, see the full Pure Strategies report.